Lebanon - waiting for the sun to shine
Since October 10th 2013: 143 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Hurry up and wait
Hurry up and wait was a common phrase back in my early youth when I was in the Danish army. It was a way of poking fun at the sergeants who would command us to do something as fast as possible. Afterwards we would sit and wait, sometimes for hours, and wonder what the rush was all about?
Here I am in Lebanon waiting. I just found something extra to do as I accidentally deleted the first blog I wrote so now I’m trying to remember what I wrote? I’m typing this thing on a smartphone just like I have been doing for the past few years. Why? That’s another story for another time. These days I’ve been occupied with administrative task, research, sleeping in, small walks, long walks, watching season 1 of Suits (no spoilers!), seeing friends, making friends and a few other things. I recently received an email from Helen Nichols who is a formidable blogger! She wanted to share this blog about health benefits in respect to any form of travel/vacation. I urge you to read it: http://www.well-beingsecrets.com/health-benefits-of-traveling/ Well done Helen on such a fine and interesting blog!
Nissrine has hardly changed!! Good to see her again :)
Towards the end of 2015 I was in a deeply frustrated state in a wonderful central african country called Gabon. Gabon is a special country which has enjoyed peace since its independence. That’s a rare thing for most former colonies! It was in Gabon I was invited to speak at an international school which has since then been closed down. Nissrine worked at the school and we stayed in touch over the years which recently lead to a reunion here in Lebanon. Nissrine is Lebanese as you may have guessed and her mountain village is in Ras el Metn. Back in Gabon I was frustrated with my many failed attempts to visit both Saõ Tomé and nearby Equatorial Guinea. I came so close to giving up after several months of hardship...but we succeeded and visited both countries. The key to that success was tied to persistence, optimism, alternative thinking and always getting out of bed and hoping for the best.
Nada (tourism promotion) on the left and Raja (Vice President of Ras el Metn Municipality) on the right www.raselmetnmunicipality.gov.lb
Back to Lebanon: Ras el Metn is a really green and charming part of the country which happened to have a lot of rain and fog on the day I visited. The weather didn’t matter though as Nissrine arranged for a warm welcome and introduced me to her family. The Lebanese are so friendly. Ras el Matn is worth visiting for a great number of reasons but for me hiking would be the primary one. It’s truly gorgeous nature up there. Did you picture Lebanon with mountains before I started writing about it? Well here’s another one for you: Lebanon is the only country in all of Asia and Africa which has no desert region.
Great pizza but amazing company!! :)
We did some sightseeing together and enjoyed Lebanon’s (or was it the world's?) best pizza. It was definitely good. Afterwards Nissrine’s brother Nidal took me higher up into the mountains where the rain turned to snow. Some of the ski resorts are open by now. All in all a really nice day in friendly company.
Freezing with Nidal :)
I’m doing really well on many fronts. Although the Saga is financially tight I’m managing as I have been invited to stay in the guest room of a Danish Red Cross delegate www.rodekors.dk That’s a great benefit to me as my Lebanese stay is really dragging along. It’s also good company and further more a home with a solid WiFi connection! I believe I may have been flirting with a depression lately and skyping with friends and family has been very valuable to me. I was skyping with one particular friend this week and we talked about how I feel. Physical exercise is certainly beneficial to mental health and I’ve been putting off buying new running shoes since I forgot the old ones in Sudan long ago. My friend looked at me and suggested that we would follow up with another skype conversation the following day...in which I could show him my new shoes. There wasn’t really a way out of it after that so I bought the shoes and I have since then been out running twice already. I’m starting up slowly with some really short runs which feels pathetic as I completed a full marathon in 3hrs 40min a few weeks before the Saga took off. Fortunately I can carry my heavy NorthFace duffel forever now so I’m not a completely lost case. The duffel bag was by the way generously supplied by www.friluftsland.dk back home in Denmark. I applied for the Syrian visa on December 15th and they told me that it would take at least a month to process due to Christmas and the New Year. They furthermore said that the outcome would only be 50/50 meaning that there’s a 50% risk I won’t get it or, if you’re an optimist, a 50% chance of taking it.
I still remember how to cook ;)
If the Saga has taught us anything then it must be that I’m not willing to give up. All those “impossible to visit” countries behind us which “I couldn’t visit” have all been visited. Does anyone seriously believe I won’t visit Syria? Right, so since resistance is futile why can’t I just visit immediately and skip all the waiting? The waiting drives me crazy.
I figure you can travel for six to nine months and really enjoy it. Perhaps even for a year. However over time many things become routine and a lot becomes work. I speak from experience as I’ve been out here for more than four years now. I should have been back home already according to the original plan. In case you’ve never heard about WhatsApp then it’s an online service you can use for “free” VoIP calls, texting or regular calls. I bet you won’t last two days in Lebanon without downloading it! It’s everywhere around here. I didn’t have WhatsApp when I left my home in the Great Kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe long ago. As a result nearly all my WhatsApp contacts are people I have met through the Saga which I think is really nice.
Motivation is important. Motivation to do anything in life. So how do we keep ourselves motivated? I motivate myself in various ways and I have developed a special way of counting to 40 which ends with 9. Don’t ask :) The point is that when I reach 9 then I need to start or stop whatever I decided before I began counting. I really don’t want to let you down but I certainly don’t want to let me down! Here’s what I truly believe in: if you give up then everything stays the same. When you hit a wall then you better start looking for a door. If the door is locked then it won’t help you (in most cases) to sit down and wait. You better start looking for another door, and another one, and another one... You may have to try 1,000 or even 100,000 door handles but one of those doors will open and you will eventually walk through! The sun will shine on your face and you will smile again! Stay creative, stay positive and stay optimistic...and keep trying those door handles!! I’ve been wanting to go to Tyre (Sour) for a while. It’s another historical city here in Lebanon. You basically can’t throw a stick around here without hitting something historical! EVERYONE came here at some point in history. It’s remarkable!! According to the New Testament Jesus came to Tyre but that’s not why I wanted to go. Two nights ago I promised myself that I would get up early and go - as a result I finally went yesterday.
I went to Tyre because Alexander the Great went. Not just that...his army did something incredible there! Tyre used to be a prominent Phoenician city and is credited with inventing the color purple. Alright, alright...maybe not inventing it per se, but certainly working out how to dye textiles purple. Image there was a time when you couldn’t simply paint something blue or red. You may think you can smear blood on something and it will be red. In reality it will dry and turn brown. How easy is life today? You probably don’t even give it a thought before you reach for a blue or red marker...well there was a time... Anyways, Alex showed up in 332BCE wanting to conquer Tyre and had a hard time doing so. Tyre was an island back then and heavily fortified. The solution was brilliant in its simplicity. Alexander’s army was ordered to dump rocks and whatnot into the ocean until Tyre was connected to the mainland. Then he conquered and destroyed Tyre. As a result Tyre is no longer an island but it is a very charming fisherman’s village which has grown into a modern city.
The Romans liked this area too and invested heavily in infrastructure and extraordinary buildings. I walked out to the hippodrome which is definitely something! The best part of being at the hippodrome was that I could freely walk around and for that specific reason I decided to walk the entire length of it. The structure is 480 meters (1,575 ft.) from one end to the other and is considered to be one of the largest Roman hippodromes in the world. In its heyday it would seat 20,000 spectators for its death defying chariot races. And now I’ve done a round of it too ;)
If you think this looks big then keep in mind that I took the picture from the middle!
A typical journalist would probably have told you the following about my visit to Tyre: “he visited old soil tainted with millennia of blood while gunfire raged in the backdrop and a huge guy on steroids beat up anyone he could grab”. In reality it was a peaceful day near the tranquil Mediterranean. Tyre is a modern city open for business. The food was good and people were friendly. I was enjoying a cup of tea with shisha (it’s a bad habit) when I heard gunfire. Some 30-40 shots were fired nearby. It was in connection to a funeral which is a cultural thing in some parts of the world. Celebratory gunfire is somehow to be seen equal to fireworks but most Lebanese appear to be against it. It’s not common in my experience but it does happen. As far as I know it regained popularity in Lebanon in 2008 with certain political parties. Another 3-400 shots were then fired as I finished my tea. The old woman who sold me the tea was super sweet and explained that the gunfire was nothing at all. I guess she doesn’t know where I’ve been...I was minding my own business and hardly raised an eyebrow. It’s always good to stay inside until a few minutes after the gunfire ends. It’s physics: bullets tend to come down again. Before you condemn Lebanon to the stone age you should know that celebratory gunfire takes place in the USA too although illegally.
This father is watching he's son...who's learning how to fish :)
Later on I was smoking shisha again (it’s a bad habit) at a café near the bus back to Beirut. Actually I didn’t just need one bus to reach Tyre! I had to walk some 40 minutes to the bus terminal, locate a minibus and wait until it was full. Then get off in Sidon and wait for another minibus to fill up before heading to Tyre. All in all a three hour process. Anyway, there I was...smoking shisha when Mahdi approached me. He studied business at the Tyre University but didn’t finish and doesn’t have a job. He appeared really bright though and was a great conversationalist. Next to us this muscular man grabbed a smaller guy by the throat and tried to choke him with one hand. Mahdi and I just continued talking. Later on Mr Muscle was giving another guy a beating fairly close to where we were sitting. However when the guy taking the beating yelled out “ENOUGH” (in Arabic) the big fellow stopped? Later on they were all playing cards together? The big guy looked as if he likes the gym a lot. Tight haircut and a lot of attitude. Looking good is a very typical thing in Lebanon. Beating up people isn’t. I’ve been in Lebanon for about a month now and I haven’t seen any violence apart from that Neanderthal. There is plenty of fancy clothing, well groomed haircuts, plastic surgery and shiny shoes to be seen in this country though ;) As I left Mahdi and a few other guys who had gathered around the table I proceeded to pay...but a Syrian guy stopped me and gestures that it was on the house.
I listen to music a lot. The other day I was listening to music and suddenly I heard this:
“You're a fraud and you know it. But it's too good to throw it all away. Anyone would do the same. You've got 'em going. And you're careful not to show it. Sometimes you even fool yourself a bit. It's like magic. But it's always been a smoke and mirrors game. Anyone would do the same.”
Then after it finished the next song played and I hear this:
“Is it too late to come on home? Are all those bridges now old stone? Is it too late to come on home? Can the city forgive? I hear its sad song.
I need the clouds to cover me. Pulling them down, surround me. Without your love I'll be. So long and lost, are you missing me?”
(Florence + The Machine)
I do sometimes wonder if I’m a fraud? I think the Saga is magnificent and of great value to the world we live in!! I truly believe in that but I’m having a really hard time selling it to any PR agencies, marketing companies, potential sponsors etc. Maybe I am living in a bubble? I had that thought for the first time during the Saga back in early 2014. I was in Iceland trying to sell the idea of me giving a presentation for an Icelandic shipping company called Eimskip. The woman I spoke to didn’t invite me into her office. We had a brief “hall meeting” where she showed no sign of emotion and had death in her eyes (this is my story). Once I finished explaining how amazing it would be for them to have me as a free speaker she looked at me and said: “we usually have speakers who have been to the top of Everest and ‘that’ kind of people come here.” Then she turned around and walked away. I felt like a complete failure!! It was as if she stabbed my stomach with a frozen dagger! I walked out of the office with my tail between my legs and an hour later I was back at my hostel ( www.bushostelreykjavik.com) where they loved the project and I loved them. The first thing I did was google how many people had summited Mount Everest? More than 5,000 people had done it more than 7,000 times!! Perhaps less than 100 people have reached every country in the world but surely less than 300 to be on the safe side. I’m not a fraud! I’m genuine and honest. I work hard and I will bite my legs off before I give up! I can defend the Saga forwards and backwards. Come at me! Nobody in history has been to every country in the world without flying! Woof! :)
So here I still am...in Lebanon...waiting for yet another visa. I’ll tell you one thing I especially enjoy about Lebanon: they’ve got sidewalks! :) I’ll grab a few more door handles if you will too. Do we have a deal? ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - the Greenback Boogie ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga